BODY OF WAR
"A tool for heightened awakening, a radical challenge to our prejudices regarding our understanding of conflict, its sacrifices and its resolutions...
A sublime work revealing a shocking tenderness"
William Fowler, curator, British Film Institute
Eikon Media Art Magazine
Body of War interrogates the militarisation of the human being. Set in the geography of the Normandy Landings and punctuated by testimonies of retired and serving soldiers, a sequence of visceral hand-to-hand combat is gradually deconstructed, inviting the viewer to engage in the relationship between human intimacy and the brutality of war.
HONORABLE MENTION, San Francisco Dance Film Festival 2012
JURY SPECIAL MENTION, IDN Festival 2010
Film stills of Body of War
A hectic fight is dissected into slower and slower repetitions, exposing the activity of training as a technical rehearsal for killing. From the visceral to the reflective, Body of War follows military training in reverse, juxtaposing the fight (the organised collective) with the human being (the individual), questioning the instrumentalisation of a person in the interest of a government. Voice interviews of retired and serving soldiers who have fought in recent wars (Iraq, Bosnia) offer personal testimonies.
At a time when military death is delivered at a distance and machines provide the interface between enemies, Body of War returns to ground-troop training in hand-to-hand combat, specifically the Israeli form of Krav Magà. The gestures of closeness and emotion revealed by combat at reduced speed uncannily recall iconographic images such as the Pietà (the Virgin Mary holding the dead Christ). To emphasise this connection, the scene is offset to Arvo Pärt's Kanon Pokajanen (Canon of Repentance), a dissonant choral composition of sacred music.
Body of War is set in Normandy, on the beaches of Néville Sur Mer and the only remaining landing strip in the region, Cherbourg Airport – sites haunted by disused bunkers built in 1943 by the Germans as part of the Atlantik Wall. An uncomfortable juxtaposition emerges between the windy desolate sand dunes engulfing the modern ruins of large concrete blocks and the fiercely physical, loyal bodies of the soldiers in training.
Depicting at once a rehearsal for and the aftermath of sacrificial combat, Body of War employs the Landing geography not as literal historical reference, but as archetypal post-war site, questioning our willingness to forget history and re-ignite conflict.
Installation views of Body of War at the Armory Toronto 2014; CCC Strozzina Palazzo Strozzi Florence 2013; Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, Israel 2012; Shaw Gallery Utah 2017; and the Koffler Gallery Toronto 2015.
Documented by the artist, Shaw Gallery and Toni Hafkenscheid.
Body of War is the central work in The Intimacy of Violence project, a solo exhibition that examines the nature of military training in a series of interrelated moving and still image works. The Speed of Violence and Fear Defence Disappearance elaborate on Body of War's themes of fragility and repetition by quoting from the film to further interrogate the existential implications of conflict and its defence systems.
The Intimacy of Violence premiered as expanded exhibition at Senda Gallery and Arts Santa Monica, Barcelona, in 2011.
An artist essay on the making of Body of War and Faith is published in Cinematic Intermediality, Eds. Marion Schmid and Kim Knowles, Edinburgh University Press, 2021.
Top image: production still of Body of War . Mari Luz Vidal and Isabel Rocamora. © 2011.
Written and directed by: Isabel Rocamora • Featuring: Nick Maison, Robert Gajewski, James Hobson, Krzysztof Szczenpankski • Soldier interviewees: Misha Solarov, Nigel Ilsley • Cinematography: Nic Knowland BSC, Alessandra Scherillo • Film editor: Nicolas Chaudeurge
Music: Arvo Pärt • Sound design: Chu-li Shewring, Paul Cowgill • Sound recordists: Sean Millar, Mick Duffield • Costume design: Matt Price, Susan Gurley • Camera operator: Tim Sidell-Rodríguez • Steadycam: Simon Wood • Commissioned by: South East Dance • Funded by: Jerwood Foundation, Esmee Fairbairn, Arts Council England • Supported by: Amister Collection, Mairie of Néville Sur Mer • Exec. Producers: Vicky Bloor, Isabel Rocamora • Produced by: Stella Nwimo, Stealth Films for the Isabel Rocamora Studio • Co-Produced by: Sisita Soldevila. Year of production: 2010.